– OPINION –
By Dallas Henderson
Food safety should always be the top priority for food businesses, but the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown our industry some major curveballs, creating new challenges around safety efforts.
First, the pandemic has resulted in a whole new set of safety protocols, with businesses implementing more stringent cleaning and sanitation practices, from more frequent handwashing to regular sanitation of high-touch areas. Additionally, businesses must adhere to social distancing guidelines, capacity restrictions, masking mandates, and employee temperature checks. As we’ve seen since last March, COVID-19 guidelines have been ever-evolving, so teams must stay updated on the latest recommendations.
Another huge challenge is the staffing shortage that our industry is facing. Many people left their food industry jobs, as restaurants and other businesses closed or operated at reduced capacity. Others left because of childcare issues or because of fears of contracting COVID. And now, food businesses are scrambling to attract, recruit, and hire new employees. As a result, business leaders are experiencing unprecedented chaos and stress.
Tech tools are essential to boost safety efforts, and will help with the following:
- Increase safety, quality, accuracy, productivity, and efficiency — Even with reduced teams, businesses must still prioritize safety, enforcing “regular” safety protocols plus new pandemic procedures. Tech solutions are significantly faster, easier, and more accurate than manual processes, helping businesses maximize compliance and provide proof that employees are following proper SOPs. Digital tools can also help reduce labor costs — a huge benefit as businesses work to financially recover from the pandemic.
- Boost transparency – Historically, food businesses conducted their safety protocols “behind the scenes,” but now, there’s a huge demand for transparency in safety efforts. Key audiences — including customers, employees, vendors, inspectors, etc. — expect to see safety protocols being implemented correctly and consistently. Transparent safety practices are essential for attracting and retaining staff, who want to work for companies that prioritize these efforts.
- Reduce or eliminate risks — One error can irrevocably damage a brand’s reputation. Tech tools help minimize risk in many important ways. Most critically, they can help ensure safety procedures are properly conducted, monitored, and enforced. This is essential as businesses work with limited staff, who are often stretched too thin, and as new employees are trained on a company’s safety protocols. Digital tools help enforce safety standards, reduce risk, and protect brands by optimizing and improving line checks, inspections, auditing, equipment monitoring, temperature checks, cleaning and sanitation protocols, and reporting.
- Conduct audits — A new trend emerging from the pandemic — that will likely continue for the long-haul — is that food businesses are using tech tools to conduct regular self-assessments to supplement in-person and remote audits. This important practice helps guarantee all safety protocols are being followed. Self-audits can — and should — be implemented more frequently than third-party audits to create a continuous quality initiative. These self-assessments will help identify and fix problems before they become liabilities. Using manual systems like pen and paper to audit often results in increased effort, time, errors, and expenses. Additionally, paper records can be difficult to organize, access, integrate, and analyze. Digital tools provide more efficient, accurate, cost-effective internal auditing systems, allowing businesses to get a more holistic view across the enterprise, or drill down by location, to immediately spot and correct any food safety issues.
- Train employees – Technology can boost the ongoing training process and ensure employees are comfortable following all SOPs. Increasingly, companies are leveraging digital tools to train new and existing employees, with how-to videos, reminders, COVID updates, etc. This makes it fast, easy, and accurate to relay information to all staff simultaneously. It’s also a powerful way to reinforce key lessons and information. Tech tools ensure that critical food safety information is easily accessible and literally at employees’ fingertips.
- Empower employees — As businesses prioritize training and education, they should also empower employees to take ownership of organizations’ safety efforts. Make employees feel responsible and accountable for your safety initiatives, and they’ll be more invested in your successes. As part of this effort, create and promote a food safety culture, and enforce it at every level. Make safety a non-negotiable part of your culture, which will help attract and retain employees who expect and demand a safe place to work.
- Manage ever-changing COVID protocols – COVID has added an extra layer of safety protocols to the mix, and it’s critical that all staff understand – and follow – the most updated guidelines. Manual processes such as posting flyers on employee bulletin boards are ineffective because there’s no guarantee that all employees will see, read, and follow these notices. Instead, use technology to push out real-time updates to all employees right on their smartphones. And provide reminders – via these digital solutions – to ensure all staff members are aware of your expectations and following proper protocols. Employees also need to understand how vaccination requirements are impacting businesses in certain areas as more cities, including San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, are requiring proof of vaccination to dine in local restaurants, bars or other indoor venues.
With the tricky combination of reduced staff, new COVID-19 regulations, and demand for transparent safety practices, food businesses need tech tools to align all employees around food safety standards and maximize compliance. Any tools that provide consistency and quality assurance will significantly benefit operations teams, who are looking for solutions to enforce and ensure safety standards. Digital quality management toolsets are the smartest investment businesses can make right now to maximize the health and safety of their organizations, employees, and customers.
About the author: Dallas Henderson, a 25-year veteran of the service industry, is an account manager at RizePoint. With 20 years in upper-level operations management for a variety of multi-national food, beverage, and entertainment locations, he has opened and run locations in Miami, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and other cities around the U.S. If you wish to discuss RizePoint’s solutions, please contact Dallas at email@example.com.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)